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Play Dogs of the New West

Tim paid his dues in order to live here; he lived in a teepee and washed dishes at the Lame Duck for years until he could finally afford to buy a place. Tim’s is the biggest heart in all of Teton County and he allows us—me, Daisy, Hilary—to use these cabins whenever we please (just be sure to close the gate). This week, however, many people with the dubious occupation title of “writer” will show up.


Daisy and I will commute the hour each way into town in the morning for the dreaded writer’s conference, and back each afternoon to watch the stars, contemplate our place in the world, and listen to the coyotes. Tim, the founder of this conference, is in charge, and he allows his B-team writers to stay out here while everyone else, the A-team, is off wining and dining. There are writers who have been on Oprah. I have never seen the Oprah show, so I was banished to the line shacks. Fine by me and Daisy. These conferences are exhausting and don’t pay squat unless you’re a “star,” but we do them because Tim asked and we get to stay in this amazing place and there are good bars and restaurants in town and we can catch up with our drinking and eating. Daisy’s main job here at the conference is to not, under any circumstances, heel any Pulitzer Prize winners.


Daisy loves this place. Last time we were here—last fall—there was a wonderful dead cow, bloated to twice normal size, in the front “yard” of the cabins, mostly bunchgrass and rabbitbrush, so close I could spit and bounce a sunflower seed hull off its belly. Daisy went straight for the hocks. The smell was insufferable for us, divine to Daisy. She barked, Git up cow, you’re hitting the trail—git up! Remember, a thousand years of genetic programming informs her it’s her job.


One morning some hands rumbled up in an old four-wheel-drive pickup. They chained the dead cow’s legs to the bumper of the truck and drove off. Opposing wheels dug into the dirt and then—pop—off came the beef’s front legs. Dead cow juice flew into the air. Daisy was beside herself, inside the cabin, trying to shoot through the fly screen using her head as a battering ram. All her circuits were telling her to go, full throttle, that there was bovine business being done, carnivorous possibilities, and she was part of the larger plan, if only to cover herself in dead cow and take some of it back to town to share the tale with buddies.


The temperature rose and the cow bloated even more. Or seemed to anyway if you count the smell’s effects on my imagination. The hands came back in the afternoon, full-on sun, with a come-along and winched the carcass into the back of a truck. Took it down toward the river and dumped it for the coyotes and buzzards.




I let Daisy out of the truck and she makes a beeline to the grave, which is a stone’s throw from the Gros Ventres River. Daisy rolls on her back, trying to absorb any dead-cow scent that might still be there. Then we fish.


Later Daisy and I eat chicken. It’s our meal together. Hilary is not here—we have grease up to our elbows. We giggle and chew, belch and fart. I even give the love of my life a thimbleful of beer to wash down the bird. Hilary calls these trips “stealing away with my girlfriend.” And in a way, it’s true, given the way Daisy first flirted with me at the pound. We named her Daisy after Daisy Fuentes. But I tell everyone at these writers’ conferences that she’s named after Daisy Buchanan, the great love of Jay Gatsby. We leave the bones for the magpies. Daisy has chicken farts. Tomorrow there will be a party of writers here. And dogs.




Jon Billman is author of When We Were Wolves. He is a former wildland firefighter and seventh-grade teacher; he now teaches at Oklahoma State University. english.okstate.edu

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